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Study finds movement in treating epilepsy

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Outreach,   Research

The idea came to Kristen Johnson while laying in bed, listening to a podcast as she tried to fall asleep.

As the story on "Radiolab" unfolded, Johnson learned how mom-turned-ultra-runner Diane Van Deren took up running as a way to relieve her epilepsy symptoms. The story stuck with Johnson, a master's degree student in the University of Georgia College of Education's kinesiology department studying exercise psychology. She soon realized there was very little research showing the effects of exercise on epilepsy patients.

So, she thought, why not start?

"I went to the literature—there was some research, but not much," she said. "So we thought there might be some benefit in getting people with epilepsy to move."

With the help of her advisor, kinesiology professor Patrick J. O'Connor, Johnson began laying the groundwork for a new study on how exercise affects people diagnosed with epilepsy—specifically, can it improve someone's quality of life?

She is now recruiting members of the community for her study, and is looking for people who have been diagnosed with epilepsy. People age 18-29 of any fitness level may take part in the research, which will hopefully lay the groundwork for a greater understanding of how exercise affects epilepsy symptoms.

The study requires participants to take a few initial baseline tests, then return to the UGA Exercise Psychology Lab on River Road three times, where they will be monitored while using an exercise bike and then take computer-based cognition tests. Participants also receive a $40 store gift card for their time.

"We're trying to gather as much information as we can about people with epilepsy," she added. To volunteer for the study, email Johnson at

In general, said O'Connor, people with epilepsy—even those who respond to medication—have a lower-than-average quality of life. The condition, which causes sudden, unprovoked seizures, affects about 65 million people around the world.

"Epilepsy is usually treated with drugs, but drugs have side effects and about 30 percent of people are not well treated by them," added O'Connor, who specializes in exercise psychology. "Prior studies of sedentary people without epilepsy show that if they adopt a regular exercise routine, they have improvements in their quality of life. As a group, people with epilepsy appear to be less physically active, so it is promising that exercise will work its magic for people with epilepsy too."

While the results of the study won't be ready for several months, Johnson said it ultimately will be one way to add to the small body of knowledge of how exercise affects people with epilepsy.

"With research, sometimes it feels so far removed from the results," she added. "I'm trying to close that gap a little. I'm trying to make a difference."

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